Air Fryers – Healthy or Health Hoax?

September 04, 2019

Healthy lifestyles can start at the dinner table, but finding ways to make smarter choices is easier said than done. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says eliminating most fats and oils from the dinner table is a great first start to a healthy heart and a reduction in your stroke risk. According to the CDC, toss that gallon of oil in favor of just a spritz. When cooking, use canola or olive oil because they are monounsaturated fat and for recipes that call for fat, use soybean, corn or sunflower oil. Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

One of the tools suggested to limit the fat and oil and still provide a delicious meal is the air fryer. This one appliance is being touted, at least on social media, as the way to cook cleaner and healthier. Experts suggest checking out the facts before plunking down hard-earned cash on an air fryer.

The air fryer is not new. They have been on the market since 2010 and have been steadily gaining popularity. They were designed to give food the flavor of something deep fried minus the heavy grease, oil and fats by using a minimal amount of oil and rapidly moving hot air to cook the food. But - are they as healthy as advertised?

How an Air Fryer Works
Unlike its name, the air fryer is not a true fryer in the classical sense. It is actually a countertop convection oven that uses a fan to circulate the hot air. It is that hot air that cooks the food inside a removable basket. The small amount of oil used in the process helps to keep the food moist and keeps any coating on the food from drying up. It provides the fried food flavor without the deep fryer, according to cook and author Kevin Kessler of cookful.com

Because of the compact nature of an air fryer, food cooks even faster. The heating mechanism is housed in the top of the air fryer unit, along with the fan. Hot air blows down into the basket, crisping the food through rapid circulation. Unlike early versions of the air fryer, most new models have slide-out cooking compartments, making them quite easy to clean.

Shore Medical Center Registered Dietitian Saba Zahid, Patient Experience Manager, Food and Nutrition Services, said cooks should remember the key to using an air fryer is to cook in small batches. By cooking in small batches, the air is able to properly circulate so that all the pieces can crisp up to the crunch you would get as if the food was fried in the traditional way. According to the manufacturer of the Phillips Air Fryer, the key to cooking food thoroughly is making sure that nothing is touching during the cooking process so that the air is able to circulate around the food, reducing the amount of oil necessary and eliminating calories and fat.

Air fryers differ in how they cook compared to a microwave. An air fryer does not use, produce or emit electromagnetic radiation to cook food like microwave ovens. Air fryers use radiated heat, which circulates around the food to cook it.

Cooking at high temperatures can form acrylamide
Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in foods that contain sugars or starches like potatoes during high-temperature cooking processes, such as frying, roasting, and baking. Acrylamide does not come from food packaging or the environment, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Acrylamide can form in the charred portion of fried food or potatoes. Although the food cooked in an air fryer can get charred if it’s left in there too long, Medical News Today reports the use of an air fryer over traditional frying in oil reduces the development of acrylamide.

Should I stop eating foods that are fried, roasted, or baked?
No. The FDA's best advice is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and limits saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Air fryer manufacturers tout the versatility of their kitchen appliance. Famous Chef Emeril Lagasse sells his own brand of air fryer that he contends will cook a chicken perfectly as well as cauliflower, broccoli other meats, fish and vegetables.

Hogging up Valuable Counter Space
One of the few knocks on the air fryer is the amount of counter space necessary. If your dream kitchen is going to include an air fryer, reserve plenty of countertop space. The Phillips XL is 16”x 12”x 11” and weighs 18 lbs. Other comparable air fryers like Black and Decker and Osari are similar in size.

For more information on healthy lifestyles and meal planning, contact Saba Zahid, RD at 609-653-3913 or email szahid@shoremedicalcenter.org.